Category Archives: novel

My Week In Writing (2/4/17)

settlementI hit 100,000 words on my sci-fi novel, so I’m feeling pretty proud of that right now – even if it’s 90% trash. Here’s a taste of what I wrote this week:

“What’s that word, indigenous?” said Saara.

“The natives,” said Doctor Yen. “The people who live here.”

“We are not indigenous,” said Saara. “We make our kesh here, but we are not native. This is not Marikesh.” They lowered the tablet. “We go through this cavern. After that there is – the symbols call it an old warren. There will be more symbols to lead to the waystation.”

“And the rangers? You can call them from there?” said Cobey.

“They might already be coming,” said Saara. “They might have – seen.”

“You’re a native,” said Doctor Yen, clearly not following the conversation. “But the rest of you – you’re human?”

A difficult question. A frosty silence. At length Six said, “no.”

I also started editing Summer in earnest – this should, fingers crossed, be the final draft. But first I need to make some cuts, add a new character thread, and probably re81kc5sE9pVL-organise the chapter breaks.

I finished reading Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children: Library of Souls and I also read Steven Universe: Too Cool For School, because I’m the kind of nerd that likes to watch cartoons for children. You can read my reviews of both over on my Goodreads.

I started reading Cry at Midnight by Mavis Gulliver. It’s the first in a trilogy of children’s fantasy novels set on Tiree. I got all three as a holiday gift from my mum, who thought I might be interested in the publisher – Cinnamon Press, an independent publisher based in North Wales. They’re not actually taking submissions at the moment, but they do have a novella competition that I might look into.

I finished watching Netflix’s new A Series of Unfortunate Events adaptation and have some mixed but generally positive feelings about it – more on that soon.

I went to the Edinburgh Literary Salon, which this month had speakers from the Edinburgh Society of Independent Authors and Shoreline of Infinity, Scotland’s own sci-fi magazine. I particularly enjoyed the Shoreline of Infinity talk, from editor Noel Chidwick – I really love the magazine, so it was great to learn more about how they were founded (also, they published my story – buy it here!).

Also, I made chocolate brownies for my flatmate’s birthday party, and they were delicious.

Next week, I’m going to be pressing on with my novels (should be hitting 110k soon, fingers crossed), heading along to Inky Fingers and workshopping a new (ish) short story at my writing group. It’s a very serious near-future sci-fi about abortion. It also has a super-intelligent wonder dog. It’s, um, a difficult piece to describe, and hopefully my group will enjoy it!

 

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Noveling: The Ever-Present Trilogy

While typing up a previous post, I referred to the novel trilogy I’ve been working on for going on ten years now as ‘my Ever-Present novel’, and it immediately occurred to me that that would actually make for a pretty good working title for the trilogy. It’s been lacking a working title ever since I ditched the previous one – The Shining Darkness – for having nothing to do with the story at all. (In my defence, it does sound pretty cool.)

This novel has existed in a lot of different forms (and I mean a lot) even only including the ones since I started attempting to put it to paper. The tone, themes and overall focus have swung all over the place. However, I’m fairly sure the most recent draft is a winner. Aside from anything else, it’s currently very nearly at 150,000 words (it might hit 150k tonight, actually), making it by far the longest thing I’ve written to date. It’ll be 170,000 by the time it’s done… and that’s just part one.

What turned out to be the key to success in sustaining a draft for more than a couple of pages (I’ve had one substantial draft before which made it to 50,000 words – again, I got to the end of part one out of three) was doing it completely by accident. A previous draft had started with a short prologue with around a thousand words about each character to provide some backstory, and I found one of them intriguing enough that, just for fun, I thought I’d write an expanded version. Forty thousand words later I had the beginning of a new draft on my hands.

But before I get to that, let’s talk about those other drafts.

The Pre-Written Version

I’m not going to talk about this too much, partly because for various reasons much of it is silly and embarrassing (and involves a lot of borderline-plagiarism) and partly because tracing the development of a story before I attempted to write it down is virtually impossible.

Mostly I bring this up in order to explain that this novel existed for a lonnnng time before I tried to write it down. It may date back to before I started school, though I’m not sure as it’s difficult to date memories before that. Reason being: this one is very closely attached to what’s best referred to as my ‘headspace’, a sort of on-going fantasy kitchen sink story that developed out of the imaginary friends I had when I was very little. (Sometimes I wonder how other people get by without having one of these to turn to when they get bored, to be honest.) Every draft of the Ever-Present novel has been a slimmed-down version of my headspace with the sillier aspects taken out.

The very first little slice of it to exist in written form is a play about some of the characters being abducted by aliens that I wrote (possibly co-wrote with my sister, not sure) to perform in primary school. It never got performed because I neglected to inform any of the teachers that I intended to perform a play. No, I don’t know either.

Handwritten Drafts

I have three of these, one of which is virtually identical to the first typed draft, so I’ll leave that for now. There was definitely at least one more. I have a vague idea there was another but I could be wrong for reasons I shall get to in a moment.

The very first draft, and the only one that’s really substantial, is naturally to date the one that’s closes to my headspace version, so I won’t say much because it’s a bit personal and a lot silly. To summarise: a recently-orphaned boy named Leo is mysteriously delivered to a very strange children’s home where all the residents are both a) magical and b) a little bit mad. The most interesting element of it, besides the fact that it’s actually quite long considering how young I was when I wrote it (maybe thirteen?) is the fact that at this stage Leo is for some reason under the impression that magic does not exist. I remember feeling strange about that when I wrote it and I seem to have dropped it very quickly in subsequent drafts.

I dropped that draft because I decided (correctly) that it was too silly and started another draft, which I decided was too serious. This is where things get shaky: I do indeed have a much more serious draft that may be the second one, except it’s written on plain paper, not lined paper, and I have a very strong feeling that the second draft was written on lined, from what I remember of actually writing it. Also, it occurs to me now, looking at the two side by side, that the difference in handwriting is quite pronounced which suggests there was quite a while between the two, and I have a plan that goes with the plain paper draft which has elements in it that I am pretty sure came considerably later. I deduce from this that there was indeed a second draft which I have lost.

The one on plain paper is what I call the ‘Version Version’, because for some reason I decided that each section should be called ‘Version’ something. The first part is called ‘Version Entrance’. Of all the early drafts this one is probably the strongest by a long way, but unfortunately it’s only a page long and Leo doesn’t even get to the children’s home.

There was one final handwritten draft that was so distinctive that I know absolutely for certain that I lost it. I call it the ‘Mrs Robinson draft’ and as I don’t have it I remember it very much through rose-tinted glasses. I suspect it was terrible. I had decided that the story should start with the death of Leo’s parents and tried writing that from the point of view of their next-door neighbour, which was a silly idea; the second part was from the point of view of the wizard who ran the children’s home and gave some background on why he spirited Leo away, which was considerably less silly.

Typed Drafts

The first typed draft was a major landmark not just for the Ever-Present novel but for my writing generally. At some point I grew sick of telling people I was ‘writing a novel’ and then sheepishly admitting that I only have twelve pages or so and decided to get the damn thing written. For the first time ever I started making myself write a thousand words a day, every day, until it was done, and keeping a proper record of my progress.

As a brief side note, this is the notebook I recorded that progress in:

Image

The records don’t tend to take up much space, so it’s mostly empty. I’m still using it to record my progress. It’s a good feeling. (Also it has Micky Mouse on the front, so.)

At this point I had yet to deviate significantly from the same story: Leo’s parents die (the circumstances of their deaths changefrom draft to draft), he is identified as having magical potential and taken to a specialised children’s home run by a wizard, and hijinks ensue. However, this draft progressed far enough to actually have a plot: increasingly extreme anti-magic feelings are developing in the wider world of the story, until eventually the atmosphere becomes to unsafe that the whole house full of children have to go on the run. The trauma and excitement of this triggers Leo’s latent magic, which turns out to be mindreading and at this stage seeing the future. They start living in a cave system by the sea, run by a fish-man named Archie (no, really) who is a old friend of their housekeeper, but are eventually spotted and ratted out to the authorities (who by this point are quite firmly on the anti-magic side). Things take a swerve for the dark and almost all the characters are killed before they can escape. End part one!

Parts two and three were going to be set at the same time, with events interweaving, but neither ever got off the ground, sadly. The surviving characters got split into two groups at the end of part one, both believing the others to be dead. One gets involved with the formal resistance, the other is more concerned with simply surviving and eventually forms a sort of resistance group of its own.

This is where the big break happened. The next draft I wrote was for NaNoWriMo 2007, and it is completely different. The anti-magic sentiments/oppressive government regime aspects remained, but the setting and characters got moved around.

The children’s home remained part of Leo’s backstory, but for the most part the plot was concerned with him leaving the home to go to a boarding school attached to a magical Temple (the Ellanei Temple – it gets more important later), where he meets the other main characters. I think at this stage I had settled on Annabel, a shape-shifter, Bridget, a healer and novice priestess at the temple, and Samuel, who is very skilled at divination, as the four leads, though I struggled to get Bridget involved with the plot.

This draft is… not good. Not at all. It was my first time doing NaNoWriMo so it’s mostly chaos. The overarching plot was handled very clumsily, though the character stuff isn’t that bad. The general shape of it is going to form book two of the trilogy, when I get there (hopefully soon).

I attempted two more typed drafts before getting to the current one. One mostly consists of the aforementioned prologue with character backstories, then would have progressed to the same sort of material as the NaNoWriMo draft, but it trailed off before then. It largely forms the basis for book one.

The final one got to just shy of ten thousand words and starts with a very introspective homage to the lost ‘Mrs Robinson’ draft; it opens with a prologue concerning an otherwise unrelated character named Julia Robinson being arrested for using magic. At this stage I had decided that the issues I was having were down to not starting when the action did, so this one began much later, with the anti-magic regime already in place, with flashbacks to the important prior events. What I have of it is going to form the basis for book three.

Current Draft

The current draft, therefore, is kind of a synthesis of all the previous drafts. I wrote one sequence – Leo’s discovery of his mindreading – with all the other drafts open in tabs so I could integrate my favourite parts of all of them. So that was fun.

So let’s talk about the current structure of the trilogy.

Part One: Phases of Being

Phases of Being is a very, very expanded version of what was originally just the prologue. It consists of four novellas (each around forty thousand words), one for each of the main characters, detailing their personal histories, setting up their characters, and generally getting them to the place(s) they need to be for part two. It takes them from age ten/eleven/twelve (depending on the character) to sixteen/seventeen. It’s also concerned with setting up the political situation and the declining position of magic. As this one is mostly complete and also quite complicated I’ll make another post just for it.

Part Two: Preliminary Castings

Will open with Samuel, Leo and Annabel arriving at the Temple School and Bridget juggling her new responsibility as school nurse with training to be a proper healer. It will be, in effect, a better executed version of the NaNoWriMo draft, with teenager-antics against a background of increasing social and political turmoil. The primary focus will be on Annabel dealing with her own various social issues and getting to a place where she can form proper relationships.

Personally, I think the title of this one is fairly self-explanatory – it’s setting things up for the third part, getting the characters into their places, etc., plus it’s a reference to Samuel’s rune-casting and the general foreshadowing of events to come.

Part Three: Candlelight

Fun fact: ‘Candlelight’ is the title of part three of the very first typed draft. In the chaos following the military coup that ends the second part, Bridget and Samuel are holed up in the Temple, where a resistance group begins to form, while Annabel and Leo are on the run in the Temple Town trying to survive and help others get to safety.

Of course, none of that is really an adequate summary of this completely ridiculous project. I shall make another post with more detail about Phases of Being, the most concrete part, and hopefully another one at some point about the world-building.

But before then, I’m going to go and hit 150k.

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Current Writing Projects

I’m very bad at committing to things. As such, I tend to have stupid numbers of writing projects on the go at once and oftentimes I struggle to finish any of them because I can’t decide which to prioritise first. So here, for future reference, is a list of projects which are currently in the writing, editing or submission stages:

Note: (w) indicates a working title.

Novels

Four Seasons Quartet. Current status: two books written, one in the editing stages, one on-hold.

Or at least I think this wants to be a quartet. The titles of the first two are Summer and Autumn so logically there should be two more parts, but I only have a detailed plan in my head for one more. However, I do have a vague idea for a fourth one, so we shall see.

Summary: Pseudo-Victorian era fantasy. More detail on this later.

(w) Ever-Present Novel. Current status: three-quarters of the way through the first book in the trilogy.

This one is definitely going to be a trilogy – it has a neat three-act structure to it – but the end of the third book is not even close to being the real end. This one doesn’t even have a real end. As of right now I have the lives of the characters roughly plotted out from the ages of twelve through forty. The third book ends when they are around eighteen. I’ve yet to come up with any kind of logically plan as to how to write the rest.

Summary: Urban fantasy. See above.

Works-In-Progress

The Show Must Go On. Current status: ~200 words. I haven’t really started this one, I just wanted to get something down on paper.

Summary: Fantasy/sci-fi. Proserpina lives in a world which revolves entirely around the giant Theatre and its show that never, ever stops. Once she is Scouted as a dancer in the chorus, she begins to realise that she has allowed her identity to be subsumed by the collective.

Down the Rabbit Hole and What Alistair Found There. Current status: ~ 150 words. See above.

Summary: Surreal fantasy. A transgender teenager, Alistair, falls into a giant library populated by miniature clockwork robots which may or may not be powered by human souls, and ruled by a mysterious and shadowy Librarian.

Glimpsing the Walkers. Current Status: ~10,000 words, on hold.

Summary: Surreal fantasy/sci-fi/horror. Sophie is mysteriously sent away to live with mysterious relatives in a town where mysterious things happen and everyone seems to be on the brink of going mad. Most mysterious of all are the Walkers, people who aren’t quite alive and are’t quite ghosts, and who no-one will talk about. Sophie decides to investigate further and discovers that once glimpsed the Walkers are not easily forgotten.

(w) Tanaquil. Current Status: ~15,000 words, on hold, in need of much editing.

Summary: Benjamin falls out of his bleak and monotonous life into a world that is actually five overlapping worlds, Tanaquil, Quark, Fae, Corioli and Niflheim. Niflheim is forbidden and unknown territory; the only person to have gone there and returned has been driven mad. He is convinced that the dark and deadly forces of Niflheim are on the brink of spilling over into the other four worlds and that Benjamin’s arrival is a harbinger of doom; Benjamin is the only person genre savvy enough to listen to him.

(w) Island. Current status: Still in the planning stages.

Summary: Historical fantasy. Aodh is a young man attached to a remote island monastery, cast out by his family due to his violent, surreal visions which occasionally come true. He sees a blond man washed up on the beach over and over; sure enough, one day he finds a shipwrecked Saxon prince named Gar.

Editing

Some FixingCurrent Status: ~6000 words.

Summary: Sci-fi. In the middle of a battlefield that used to be a city some time in the future, a lowly technician discovers a several damaged Cyborg-Soldier which has someone regained its memories of being human.

The Goat Boy and the Prince. Current status: ~12,000 words.

Summary: Fairy tale. A long, long time ago, the land was full of magic. It crackled under the earth and the sea, in every living thing, glistening on every leaf and every bird and in the wings of every dragonfly; it blazed in the heavens at dusk, painting the sky red and gold. Listen and you could hear it singing. The world was new and bright.

(w) The Lift. Current Status: ~28,000 words.

Summary: Sci-fi. In a world contained entirely within a twelve-storey building where everything runs like clockwork, a young woman is suddenly approached by a man who flaunts all the rules and seems convinced that she is the key to unlocking everything.

The Fifth Dream. Current status: ~14,000 words.

Summary: Magical realism set in Ancient Greece. A potter starts dreaming that statues of Athene are talking to him and starts to realise that he may be descended from Zeus; meanwhile, Athens is on the brink of war and his visions are set upon as an omen of Victory.

Submission

I Am. Current status: ~9000-13,000 words. There’s two different drafts, the former is abridged as most magazines won’t accept anything over ten thousand words.

Summary: A man wakes up inside a machine with no air and no memory of how he came to be there. Unfortunately, once he escapes everyone he meets seems to know exactly who he is and everyone seems to want him dead.

Locked Rooms. Current status: ~10,000 words.

Summary: A boy starts to realise that his idyllic rural life may not be all that it seems.

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